Saving the Big Cats: The Exotic Feline Rescue Center By Stephen D. McCloud

Indiana University Press; $39.95

Absolutely gorgeous photographs of big cats rescued from dire circumstances and now living in a safe haven just south of Center Point, Ind., near Terre Haute, lure you into an even more compelling narrative.

Why is there a need for an exotic feline rescue center? And why is Joe Taft, Exotic Feline Rescue Center’s founder, passionate about “imperfect” and mistreated felines?

Photographer Stephen McCloud personalizes about 50 of the over 160 four-legged inhabitants living reclusively within a sprawling hinterland of over 100 acres. The animals have been rescued from clueless owners who mistakenly think lions and tigers can be domesticated as pets; from professional photographers, breeders and advertising and entertainment agencies that use and lease big cats for monetary gain; and from circuses and zoos where the cats have become “surplus” commodities. Most come malnourished and under-exercised.

The stories of their rescue and life at the center are incredible and heartwarming. “On July 22, 2001, King, a 14-month-old African lion, came very close to death … His owner, having decided that she could no longer afford to feed him, was planning to have her brother shoot him and take him to a taxidermist if another home could not be found for him that day … a woman named Wendy … borrowed a horse trailer … and delivered him to Indiana (a 14-hour drive from Minnesota). “Within a few days … Jasmine, a female lion at a movie ranch in Idaho, also needed a home ... [King and Jasmine] were housed next to each other to get acquainted. Within days they were moved into their permanent home … No one realized that King was old enough to breed. The result was Lauren, who now lives with King and Jasmine.” Their five-page spread is a family story to cluck over.

Equally compelling are the stories of Majae, a female serval found on a porch in Bloomington, Ind.; Murphy, a male puma, illegally residing in Chicago; and the unlikely roommates Otis, a very large male tiger, and Baby, a female lion.

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